Welcome to the Improve Photography Holiday Gift Guide 2016! Below you will find a list of gift ideas from many of the hosts of podcasts on the Improve Photography network you can share as hints as people are shopping for you or for that photographer in your life. The hosts have plenty to say when the budgets are big, but they had to really think hard to come up with gift ideas in some of the lower budget categories so you will want to check out the list and be sure to check out the Improve Photography, Photo Taco, Portrait Session, and Tripod podcasts to hear more tips and tricks to help you improve your photography!
We will start off slow with a $25 or less budget category. Some of the hosts had a tough time thinking of gift suggestions to fit in this budget, photography can be a very expensive activity. But there are still a few pretty good options.
- 15 Pack of Lens Wipes – If you have listened to the Improve Photography or Tripod podcasts you have heard us recommend these really useful lens wipes a number of times and he decided to make them his pick this year for this budget category. He says you can never ever have enough lens cloths, especially for those that shoot outside in misty conditions.
- L Plate – Jim recommends an L Plate saying he's not sure why, but when he does meetups with readers of Improve Photography, it’s rare that he sees photographers with L plates. To him, he goes CRAZY trying to shoot on a tripod if he doesn’t have an L Plate. The good news is they are very inexpensive. Check out the guide on what an L plate is and how to buy one here.
- Panasonic Eneloop 4th generation 8 Pack AA NiMH – This one comes from Jeff who says that Eneloop branded batteries are really solid and have been tested out by many a photographer as getting a good charge for many cycles, lasting longer than other brands.
- Triangular Reflector with a handle – Connor thinks that 5 in 1 reflectors are a must for pretty much any portrait photographer. They are incredibly useful in being able to light a subject when you don’t have or don’t have time to use flash. This makes it quite a bit less of a pain to use a reflector on your own in the situation that you are unable to rope someone into coming to be your assistant for a few hours.
- Gaffers Tape – Sandy picked this one and yes, she knows she is a nerd for doing so. But she uses SO MUCH of this stuff! At $20 a roll, it gets expensive but if she found a roll of gaffers tape in her stocking this year, she would seriously be overjoyed. PLUS, you can use it for anything. Just last week, she tore her backpack and gaffers tape is currently keeping it together. Of course, it’s intended use it to tape down backdrops, cords, etc.
- Tactical Flashlight – Ever the adventurer, Brian picked a solid flashlight. He says that whether searching through your bag, lighting up the back of your camera at night to change settings, finding your way through the dark without falling off a cliff at Horseshoe Bend, or light painting a barn in Washington, a good flashlight is a must! He loves the durability, brightness, and ability to zoom the light in and out. Plus, it’s tactical, so it will save you from a Bear attack! (Or something like that!)
With a tiny bit more room to get something more meaningful to photographers, there were more options to choose from here with $50 to spend. But only barely.
- Peak Design Camera Slide – Starting off with Brian this time, not being a big fan of logos, he doesn't like wearing a camera strap that says “CANON” or “NIKON.” That’s just one thing he loves about the Slide. It comes in a few solid colors and is made of durable material (almost like a seatbelt). What’s so great about this strap though is that it adjusts quickly and easily. When he's moving around so much he often needs to adjusts the length so his camera doesn’t bang into things and the Slide allows him to do that with a quick flip of a latch.
- Tether Tools Cable – While not for every photographer, as a commercial photographer, Sandy uses her tether cable every single day! If you are interested in any kind of studio photography, it’s safe to say that you will end up buying a tethering cord at some point. Now, $20-$50 may seem like a lot for a simple cable, but trust her, you want to buy a good one. She had three cheap ones break before she finally went with a Tether Tools setup. She has been using hers for about a year now and it’s been great!
- 3 Month Audible Subscription – As he so often wants to do on the podcasts, Connor stayed true to form and went a little off the reservation picking something here that is only very loosely associated to photography. Although to be fair, Jeff did an entire Photo Taco podcast episode recommending some music that was scientifically engineered to help people focus on a task intensely for 25 minutes, so he is both nerdy and entirely off his rocker too. Connor also didn't pick Audible because they have sponsored podcasts that he loves. He ADORES audible. You can find books there that can have actual impact and educational value for building your own small business, (he recommends “All Marketers Are Liars” by Seth Godin, or “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber) that have enjoyable and enthralling stories to listen to while in a grueling editing session. You can also catch up on reading the great works of famous authors you should probably have read already. (No judgement here)
- Impact Large Clip Clamp – Erica gets us back to gives that are very directly photography related and useful with these clamps she says are a dream come true for speedlight photographers everywhere. Forget heavy, clunky lightstands and save yourself some trouble by using clamps instead. Lightweight and portable, these clamps will safely clamp onto any small surface such as poles, doors, etc.
- Digital Survival KIT – Sensor Swab Type 2 (w/Eclipse) – Jeff thinks photographers can put their nerd on and safe a lot of money by cleaning the sensors in their cameras themselves with this kit. He says that cleaning the sensor on your camera yourself may sound very scary, but it really isn’t too bad – especially when you get the right kit like this one for Canon crop sensor cameras. You will need to make sure to buy the kit specific to the sensor size in your camera and to get help a little in the courage department check out Jim’s video (he drops a raw egg into the camera!) on how to clean a camera sensor here.
- Vello Wireless Shutter release – We think its so nice to have a shutter release that isn’t connected to your camera and this thing has a really nice range on it. As he has put it to the test it has gone well over 100 feet. The price is right coming in around 35 bucks. It is a great buy and very useful.
At $100 we are getting close to really being able to do something meaningful with photography gifts, and we think we have some decent options if you can crack the wallet open this wide.
- MagMod Basic Kit – Raved about a couple of times on the Portrait Session and Improve Photography podcasts, Sandy picked MagMod light modifiers before Erica or Nick had a chance. Sandy says they are just awesome. She really believes that every photographer could use a MagMod kit. Plus, you will look so much more professional than tapping gels and diffusers to your speedlights.
- Wall Sized Map of the World – Brian gets a little off the wall with his pick here. Well, maybe more like on the wall. He says that as he continues to travel the world as much as possible, he's been trying to think of a unique way to keep track of it all. As a social studies teacher during the day, he sorta has a thing for maps. He's hoping to finish up his garage studio/office and envisions a HUGE map taking up a wall where he can pin some pictures on it. He really likes the look of this one and hopes that Improve Photography listeners and readers can join him and the IP gang on some of these excursions!
- WD 2TB My Passport Portable Hard Drive – You may have thought the IP computer nerd, Jeff, would have made this suggestion, but it is actually the lovely Miss Erica. She thinks this little gadget is the perfect portable hard drive for photographers on the go. It’s compact, lightweight, durable, and extremely easy to use. Oh, and it’s inexpensive! She also recommends spending a bit more than the budget and getting a carrying case to go with it for extra protection.
- Fotodiox EX-Pro 36″ Octobox with Speedlight Mount – Connor was thinking like Sandy with a light modifier recommendation here. This is one he thinks every photographer should have in their arsenal. It sets up and breaks down exactly like an umbrella, but your light source is mounted from the back like a traditional softbox. This version is a small enough size to be highly portable, but large enough to cast a lovely soft light. Fotodiox makes excellent quality softboxes considering their affordability. He thinks you would be hard pressed to find a nicer modifier at this price point. If you want something a little larger they also offer 48 inch and 60 inch models of the same modifier. He has one of their 60 inch octoboxes for his studio strobes and it is one of his favorite modifiers.
- NRS boundary Sock – We can't let this gift guide go without raving once again, as he has on the Improve Photography and Tripod podcasts numerous times, over these water socks. He likes these socks so much he says you can be sure to hear or see this recommendation from again in the future as well. He says these things are amazing for shooting in and near cold water. In Iceland he was able to stand in calf deep water for an hour in a half in freezing conditions with nothing but these and a pair of sandals.. Amazing waterproof and warm for the landscape photographer
- Impact Background Support System – 12′ Wide – You might be surprised that Jeff the computer nerd and hobbyist photographer is recommending lightstands this year. Has our budding photography grown up? He bought this system in February 2016 and has absolutely loved having it as part of my makeshift almost DIY temporary studio that goes up and down in his basement for portrait shoots. He has done several professional head shots (why does photography sound like video game so often), portrait shoots, and even a video using this background support system. He says that at $100 is a really reasonable way to try your hand at using backdrops in your photography
Now we are talkin'! We have some real money and the hosts were much more excited to recommend potential gifts in this category as you are sure to catch in their commentaries.
- Synology NAS DiskStation DS916+ (8GB) (Diskless) – We will start off with Jeff getting back to his computer nerdery where his pick is a suggestion for how photographers can protect themselves from the dangers of hard drive failures. He will be docked points for going over budget a little at $600, but this NAS RAID system is his favorite brand in part because it is the technology storage geeks swear by for their personal use. Not really fast enough to actually do a lot of editing, this device is perfect for long-term storage of your library after you have completed the post-processing. He has to be docked more points because he further cheated in this budget category as this pick doesn’t include any hard drives to go inside the NAS, and it would take another $1,000 or so to put 4 HGST, a Western Digital Company ULTRASTAR HE8 6000GB 128MB 7200RPM SATA ULTRA 512E ISE 128MB Cache 3.5-Inch drives in there. That would provide about 18TB of fault tolerant (can survive with one of the hard drives failing without losing data) storage but would end up being more than 200% over the budget. That might put him on Santa's naughty list. Still, if he had $600 to spend on his photography this Christmas, it would be this! He also wanted to point out that if this recommendation doesn't make sense to check out his Ultimate Backup Workflow article, and listen to his Hard Drive Full and Photography and Storage Photo Taco podcast episodes.
- Feisol CT3442 Tripod – Jim thinks that with a $500 budget you should look no other place than what has been the best tripod he has ever tested or owned – and he has used pretty well all of them. This one has gone with him to 8 countries, has been dunked in rivers and oceans, has been rained on, snowed on, etc. Still works like new and unlike Nick, he has NEVER even cleaned it. When the PR people from rival tripod companies ask him to try their stuff, he shows them the Feisol CT3442 and asks them if they have anything that is just as tall and incredibly light, and so far none of them have given him a challenger. This thing is LIGHT and rock steady. He wouldn’t even consider another tripod. Period.
- Alienbees Starter Rig – Connor is specifically recommending the Paul C Buff – Cyber Commander (Trigger/Light Control/Light Meter ($175), the Alien Bees AB800 Strobe Unit ($280) and the Paul C Buff – Cyber Sync Receiver Unit ($70). He says that this is for those who are interested in moving beyond regular speedlights in their flash photography and want to start using studio strobes. He is a huge proponent of using strobes in indoor environments due to their power output and recycle times. This setup is a fantastic one for getting started in on that journey.
- Phottix Mitros+ Speedlight + Phottix Odin Trigger – Erica packaged these two items together to make her $500 budget idea as well. She says that these are her pick because they don’t misfire or malfunction like the Yongnuos do (Jim, Jeff, and Nick think she should be docked points for that comment). Phottix has proven to be as reliable as the name brand flashes at a much more reasonable price. The Mitros+ speedlight has a built in receiver, so no need for a separate purchase there. The on camera trigger allows you to control all speedlights directly from your camera, reducing the need for physical contact with the speedlights. It’s easy, reliable, and affordable, which we all love and appreciate.
A photographer can really get something nice within the $1,000 budget. There were plenty of options for our hosts to choose from, what does it say about each of them what they picked?
- Canon 100 2.8L IS Macro Lens – Brian he chose this lens simply because he doesn't currently own a macro lens and Jim's review has got him wanting one.
- Really Right Stuff 34L Carbon fiber tripod – Nick thinks Jim's tripod pick in the $500 budget is cute and all, but if you want a REAL tripod this is the one to go for. OK, OK, he knows its crazy spendy for a tripod. But he is finally sold on it. He wishes he would have bought this one to start with and saved himself $800 bucks spent on the pretenders. He says the Really Right Stuff is crazzzzyyy tall and very very light for the height you're getting out of it.. Plus he has proven now that unlike all of those pretty and less expensive tripods this one is actually made to last. Easily the best tripod he has ever seen, let alone owned.
- Dots, Fingers, and Grips – As a professional commercial product photographer, Sandy brings a unique perspective to the IP gang, and her pick here is a great example. She says that flagging and shaping light is difficult, especially when you are working with smaller objects and that she would love to have something like this at the studio to use for food and product photography. It would DEFINITELY make her life so much easier.
- iPad Pro – Sandy just couldn't decide between the aides for the commercial photography and the shiny tablet from Apple, so she thought she would put both on the list. Although this may seem too obvious, who wouldn’t want an iPad pro, BUT she would love to have one to simply to show off her portfolio to potential customers. Normally she would say you should always have a printed portfolio, but the large back-lit screen can really make your images pop! Plus you can use tools like Lightroom mobile or Snapseed to actually do a fairly decent job of post-processing photos on the go if you have cool wireless capabilities with your camera.
- 5-Day Photography Trip to Iceland – Jim insists that you should stop going through this list right now and go over to check out the Groupon Getaways or the Living Social Escapes websites to book a trip. They often have AMAZINGLY inexpensive trips to Costa Rica, Iceland, Ireland, and other awesome photo locations. He took my wife to Costa Rica for 10 days and it only cost him $599 per person, which covered their flights from a major US airport, rental car, and hotels. He has also gone to Iceland for under $700 for flight and lodging. They have limited days you can go and you have to get to JFK or LAX or another major airport, but he has never found any other deals like that for travel. Check them out! They may sound too good to be true, but he has done them before and the deals are A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
- Ben Q 32″ 4k Monitor & Wacom Intuos Pro Small – With so much room in this budget category Connor opted for a double dip in the gift box. This is a monitor he has done a great deal of research on and has concluded it is just about the best you could hope to find at this price point. This is the monitor he hopes to find under wrapping this holidy season but can never seem to pull the trigger to buy. If you have someone willing to get you a very nice gift this year, he thinks you would be hard pressed to find a monitor better suited for editing. He also included a Wacom Intuos Pro Small at this price point to round up to the $1000 mark. He thinks a Wacom tablet is an absolutely ESSENTIAL piece of gear for any photographer wanting to do any more advanced post processing. He has owned both a small version of this tablet and the medium, and while he tends to prefer the medium for his workflow, the small version is more than satisfactory for anyone looking to dive into a world of using a tablet for editing instead of a mouse.
- Canon EOS 80D Digital SLR Camera Body – Jeff is showing he is having a hard time letting go of the Canon camera lineup even though he has said many times on the Improve Photography and the Photo Taco podcasts that he is all but convinced the Fuji XT-2 would be better for him. He already shoots crop sensor bodies (7DM2 and 60D) and loves them – for the most part. The only thing he really wishes he had was more dynamic range. He knows he could switch to another manufacturer to fix that problem since pretty much all of the other manufacturers have better dynamic range in their sensors that Canon, but according to DPReview and some feedback he have received from real-world usage of the latest Canon sensor inside the 80D, the dynamic range is a serious improvement that almost catches Canon up to other crop sensors. Almost being a pretty important word there. Staying mostly in budget at $1,200 he could get more dynamic range with the 80D than he could by going through the hassle of selling all his current equipment. Maybe he just needs someone to handle that for him?
- Canon 45 mm Tilt Shift Lens – Erica took a different view of the world in recommending a lens that produces a very different view of the world. She is really trying to help photographers get creative and add an artistic touch to their photos. The tilt shift lens allows you to add selective blur to your photos, resulting in a dynamic, interesting, creative photo straight out of camera. The 45 mm focal length is her recommendation, simply because (1) it’s the most affordable of them all and (2) this focal length is great for close ups and wide shots. She says this lens is for those who want to challenge themselves to shoot more creatively and who want to learn a new, unique, manual way of shooting.
Otherwise known as ludicrous – well, maybe that is actually the next budget category – $5,000 is about half way to fully loading a beginning photographer with everything they would need to go pro. With this one it gets even more interesting to see what the hosts recommend when the limits are nearly non-existent.
- iMac 5k fully loaded with all the upgraded hardware – Jim is a thoroughly convinced Apple convert. He never understood Macs. He was hung up on the price. He admits they are expensive, but once he switched he couldn’t force himself to go back to the PC. He loves how when his iPhone is in his pocket he gets texts on the computer he is working on so he can type back on a real keyboard. Notes from his phone are synced to the iMac. His desktop files from his iMac automatically sync to his Macbook Air laptop. He can airplay his screen to his TV, he don’t have to worry about viruses hardly at all, and he has never needed to reformat his Mac. With 3 years on the Mac after being a die hard PC guy, he can say that he will never go back to the PC. The price is scary, but it HAS indeed been worth it. For more information on this topic, check out Jeff's article Mac vs. PC for photographers.
- Fuji XT2 Camera, Fuji 50-140mm lens, Fuji 10-24mm lens, and Fuji 16-55mm lens – Going from a single, pretty expensive item, Jim said he had to get a second pick in this category just to point out how inexpensive the Fuji system is to get into. Comparatively inexpensive that is. He shot full frame Nikon for years before switching to Fuji, and he has never been happier with a camera system. Not only is Fuji cheaper, he can carry all his gear without breaking his back, and the lens system is great – a pretty good sized weakness with other mirrorless systems.
- TWO DJI Phantom 4 Pros (w/ backpack and bells and whistles) – You may wonder why two? Brian says it is because he keeps hearing how everyone crashes their first one! He also wonders if he really needs to have a reason for wanting one? What photographer doesn't hope to get the funding for a drone approved by the CFO? He would love to be able to capture his travel opportunities and workshops as well as getting epic shots that a photographer can’t get standing on the ground.
- Photography workshop – You may think we are making a rather shameless plug here for our own photography workshops, and he is, but even if you don't choose his workshop (what? why would anyone choose another one?) he wonders what is the use in spending tons of money on your gear if your not actually going to great places to use it. The sad fact is we spend thousands on the gear, but not nearly enough on putting ourselves in front of pretty things. A photo workshop is the perfect place to not only learn, but do it in a place where your getting once in a life time photos.
- Travel Costs to attend a CreativeLive Event – Sandy mostly agrees with Nick in this budget category, although she thinks that you should consider an event from CreativeLive. She loves Creative Live. If she could actually attend one of their classes and interact with a photographer she admires, she would be so grateful. She is pretty sure most classes are hands-on and last several days. It’s definitely on her bucket list. The only catch is that they only list the classes a month in advance, so planning it would be a little tricky and possibly very expensive to buy plane tickets last minute. If you’re not interested in CreativeLive, then she would use the money to pay the costs of a workshop or retreat somewhere else really cool (Iceland maybe?)
- Custom PC Build from PugetSystems.com (Core i7 4GHz/64GB RAM/Nvidia GeForce 1080 8GB/512GB Samsung 850 Pro/6TB WD/27” Asus 2K IPS 100% sRGB display) – Jim offered the Apple computer, one that Jeff agrees is FANTASTIC for photo editing, but argues this setup would run circles around it. Well, for everything but Lightroom, where it doesn't seem to matter right now because it runs pretty slowly on everything (check out Jeff's recent Photo Taco podcast where he shares 5 tips to SQUEEZE every ounce of performance out of Lightroom). One of the advantages of a PC from PugetSystems is the testing they will do before they ship it (this is not a paid ad for PugetSystems, just Jeff's current favorite custom PC maker). Really the point is that in order to get a computer to run post-processing software well, a photographer needs to be prepared to invest fairly heavily. He runs PC purely because he can get more for his money, but that isn't for everyone. Go with your personal preference between Mac or PC but don't expect post-processing software to work well if you haven't invested in a good computer.
- Ideal Studio Lighting Kit – Connor went absolutely nuts thinking about having $5,000 to spend on lighting. He would love to go with a kit of Paul C Buff Einstein Strobes – x4 ($2,000), Paul C Buff – Cyber Commander (Trigger/Light Control/Light Meter) ($175), Cybersync Transceiver for Einstein’s – x4 ($120), Paul C Buff Vagabond Extreme Battery Pack ($400), Backup Battery for Vagabond Pack ($160), Set of 4 Grids for Paul C Buff Reflector Dishes ($70), Set of 20 Color Gels ($50), Pelican 1650 Case (For Strobes) ($233), Neewer C-Stands with Removable Turtle Base and Small Boom – x4 ($592), Avenger Mini Boom Arm (A more sturdy boom for heavy duty use) ($121), 28” Beauty Dish with Honeycomb Grid ($175), Fotodiox EZ-Pro 36”x48” Softbox – x4 ($320), Fotodiox Grid for 36”x48” Softbox – x2 ($80), Fotodiox EZ-Pro 60” Octagon Softbox ($110), Fotodiox EZ-Pro 12”x56” Strip Softbox – x3 ($243), Cowboy Studio Seamless Backdrop Wall Mount ($60), Savage Thunder Gray Seamless Paper Roll ($70). He added that he loves studio strobes. He loves shooting indoors. This is the list of gear he would go out and buy for himself if he had a $5000 budget and wanted to build a studio lighting setup from scratch. This setup would allow you to be mobile (well as much as studio strobes can be mobile) and allow for the widest variety of shooting possibilities from portraiture to product work.
Sleep On a Bed of Money Budget
Is there really a difference between the $5,000 budget and this one? Yes, there is! We asked the hosts to think of what they would buy if they had unlimited funds. Dream their biggest dream. Now this one tells us a lot about them, right?
- Round-the-world photo trip – Erica didn't hesitate for a moment. She would go on a long trip around the world. Because who doesn’t want to see the world and take photos in awesome places?! Also, her current personal project is photographing dancers around the world, so that would reallllllllly help with that.
- The Chicago Bears – Yep, Brian's mind immediately went to a football team. A team his is convinced he could run better than the fools controlling it now. Football is a passion of his and he LOVES shooting NFL games. It’s one of the toughest challenges not being able to control the game, yet having to capture THE shot. If he owned the team, he would get to shoot any game with all the access! Plus, as everyone knows, he would then own his own private jet to travel the world and get my Wanderlust fix.
- The Lightroom Product Team – Jeff is probably as delusional as Brian in thinking that he could run the Adobe Lightroom product team better than it is being run today. His first order of business would be to add a “Cull” module to Lightroom that he would like to think would almost entirely fix the issues most photographers have with the dominant post-processing product available today. He said Adobe is free to contact him to talk about this idea.
- Hasselblad X1D Medium Format Mirrorless Camera – Sandy gets back a little closer to reality with her pick. She says that if she slept on a bed of money, why wouldn’t she have a medium-format mirrorless camera to use as her “walking around” camera? She thinks THAT would be cool.
- Dream Studio Steup – Connor didn't have to think very long or hard about his dream. Hasselblad H6D-100c 100MP Medium Format Camera, every current Hasselblad Lens, a fully stocked professional commercial photography studio to keep furnished with mid-century modern furnishings, the nicest editing station that can possibly be built, a full staff of employees, and a generous budget for travel whenever I want to photograph whatever strikes my fancy. Seems pretty self explanatory. He loves photography and these are the things he would do with a big bed of money!
- Private Jet – Jim doesn't need a football team, but like Brian, he would take a private jet. He just loves photographing far-away countries, but after spending 60 hours in airports in a 10-day span at one point this year…. he absolutely detests airports and going through airport security and the cramped seats next to smelly people, etc. You get the idea. Private jet. 🙂
- Photo Trip to the Wonders of the World – See a theme here? Doesn't take much to make Nick happy, just unlimited funds to travel the Wonders of the World. That's all. He asks what could be more epic than a photo trip taking you to the pyramids, the great wall, the Colosseum, etc. All amazing structures this world has to share (see the bearded one drifting off into a dream land, his happy place…). He would do it in one 3 month trip. If you have the money to do so, do it! That's what he would do.
There you go, that is the gift ideas from the Improve Photography Podcast network for 2016. The great thing about this list is that it is entirely different from the 2015 list, so if you didn't like these you should check those out for another huge set of suggestions. Now we are sure that many of your reading this list think there are lots of items the hosts missed, so let us know what that would be by commenting below. Most of all, happiest of holidays to all of our readers and listeners. We are so glad to have you be part of the Improve Photography community!